SOCHI, Russia -- Two 18-year-old figure skaters made their Olympic debuts in the new team event Sunday, with a medal in sight that was bigger than the sum of their individual programs. Turns out Gracie Gold and Jason Brown had something more in common than their teenage prowess.
"Jason and I were definitely a little nervous,'' Gold told reporters after turning in a clutch season-best free skate score (129.38) that helped the U.S. team win the bronze. "Our parents talked. Neither of us did team sports, because we didn't like having other people rely on us -- and also that extra pressure.
"So I'm really glad Jason and I skated well. And I can't believe that just happened.''
Gold didn't have to dish off a pass at midfield or sink a 15-foot jumper to fulfill her task. All she had to do was one of the toughest things in her sport: compete as if the Iceberg Skating Palace were her training rink in Southern California.
Her clean, confident long program to Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty'' clinched third place behind Russia and Canada, making her a happy spectator as ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White delivered a stunning free skate to end the U.S. evening with an exclamation point.
Gold's performance marked another milestone in a season that began with a big move from Chicago to train under coach Frank Carroll and has steadily picked up steam. Already primed to be one of the most intriguing young faces on the U.S. Olympic team, Gold rocketed to another Q rating when she won the national championships last month.
"My Grand Prix season wasn't my best, but I think I'm hitting my stride,'' she said in a decided understatement.
Carroll couldn't find much fault with his student other than a passing fist pump, an understandable tic but one he would like to cure. "I'm a classical kind of guy,'' the coach said, noting that the gesture was not in the choreography. "Stick to the plan, man, that's my game. Stick to the rehearsal. Stick to the way you're supposed to do it.''
That core philosophy has poured a solid foundation for Gold, who came to Carroll as a perfectionist still struggling with how to recover from mistakes mid-program.
"I do tons of good programs in practice -- you know, that's what Frank's all about, the run-through, the run-through, the efficiency, everything the same, the training,'' Gold said. "I just thought, 'Here we go, another chance to skate at the Olympic Games.'"
As Gold spoke to reporters, the image of Russian prodigy Julia Lipnitskaia floated on a big screen behind her, leaping and spinning through a dazzling program that earned her the top raw score of the night and reconfirmed she is a contender for the Olympic championship.
Gold didn't turn around, but gave her assessment moments later. "She's dynamite, guys,'' she said. "Let's be real. She's 15, she's completely unfazed.'' Lipnitskaia's toffee-like flexibility makes it look as if she has "no spine,'' Gold said, and added, "She has iron in her bones.''
Ten days yawn between now and Feb. 19, when the women skate their short program, but Carroll said he expects Gold's momentum to carry over.
"She likes skating in this building, obviously,'' the coach said. "She likes the ice, likes the surroundings, wasn't intimidated by the crowd, wasn't intimidated by anything. I would think, logically, she would come back and feel that way about it for the individual event.''